I had a girl pass out on the toilet. She was in the bathroom for 30 minutes, and I knew something was wrong. I walk in. She’s pants down. I thought she was dead. I gasped and yelled, waking her up. Coming to, she mumbled, “I didn’t order this,” and passed out again.
In Denver, Cheyenne Tylr worked at Retrograde, a bar concealed behind an ice cream parlor in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood, close to the edge of the Five Points district.
Retrograde, as a word, refers to reverse direction, and is commonly used for those who recall memories prior to a period of amnesia. Amnesia is something our culture went through with regards to artisan crafts – until the last decade. In the last ten years or so, we have seen a revival inspired by the past. Retrograde, the bar, takes its guests not only through a walk-in cooler door, but also back in time in two primary respects:
First, Retrograde demonstrates great care towards the elements of what makes a great drink work – looking to the basic building blocks of what made early cocktails’ flavor profiles enjoyable.
Secondly, Retrograde provides an environment that’s reflective of recent history’s vision of the future. The best comparison for the bar’s aesthetics is the work of Ken Adam, who is best known for the set designs of the James Bond films during the ‘60s and ‘70s and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
Ken Adam (1921 – 2016) was an Academy Award winning production designer of British-German citizenship. In his teens, he and his family relocated to England shortly after the Nazi party rose to power in Germany. He worked on seven out of the eleven Bond films in the ‘60s and ‘70s, beginning with Dr. No (1962) and finishing with Moonraker (1979).
Cheyenne Tylr lived in Oceanside CA until 2014, when she made a move to Fort Collins. She entered a period of deep doubt during her early months in Colorado – going through the dissolution of a relationship and bearing a depression, while swimming upstream in her nursing education. “I was in nursing school for a year and a half and hated it,” says Tylr. “I was struggling to even read the books…this [went] on for months. I was working at a cocktail bar, and I remember experiencing a huge relief every time I went to work.”
Tylr called her mom after failing a test, which ended up being the last straw – she’d have to ace the next three tests in order to pass. “I remember saying, I can’t do this. Nurses are amazing – both my mom and dad are nurses. I told her, my mom, that I wasn’t moving forward with nursing.”
Prior to Fort Collins, the only hospitality role she had held was at a Holiday Inn in California. She worked there for three years: two years as a server, six months as a bartender, and the remainder as a bar manager. “The most complicated drink we made was a Mai Tai…the rest were rum & Cokes – not a lot of creativity,” Tylr tells me. “Not until I moved to Colorado did bar-tending grab my attention…that’s when I knew I wanted to pursue this industry.”
Despite the lack of energy at the Holiday Inn, Tylr has this story…
My first night of room service…I was told if someone is not properly clothed, don’t go in – just tell them you will come back. My first [room service experience], the guy opens the door in his underwear. Behind him, on the bed, is a naked woman. I panicked, and had too much to do, so I rolled the cart into the room, averting my eyes, and left. I abandoned the cart – I was supposed to take it.
She also told me about her very first shift at the Holiday Inn…
I was supposed to be there at 6:00am. I woke at 8:00am. I was late on my first day. When I showed up, my trainer wasn’t there – no call, no show. It was Mother’s Day weekend. I had no idea what I was doing, and there was a line out the door.
There were so many comped tabs. I remember crying afterwards, but the shift ended with a high five and a “Hope to see you tomorrow!” In a way, my trainer quitting was my saving grace.
It will never be as bad as that first shift. Whenever I have a rough night, I think about that day for perspective.
Fort Collins is where Tylr initially worked with Cory Leicester. He had returned to Colorado from establishing a speakeasy in Anchorage, Alaska called Blues Central – but it didn’t take long until Cory’s talents were called elsewhere again. “Cory moved back from Alaska and was working with me. Soon, though, he got asked to run a speakeasy in Denver and asked me to come with him, but adding, ‘I need to know within 24 hrs.’ I sat down, thought about it, and told him, ‘Two things: I need a place to stay, and this is how much I can pay for rent.’ He said, ‘I can make that happen.’ He offered that on a Wednesday. I gave my two weeks’ notice on Thursday, and I signed a lease on Saturday.”
Cory Leicester was the beverage director of Retrograde. I reached out to him over e-mail, but received a reply four days later from someone else, “Cory has moved back up to Alaska to start some new adventures.” I previously interviewed him for a Rocky Mountain Food Report entry a year ago.
Cheyenne takes no prisoners. She’s focused and efficient while giving a personalized experience. Preemptively deescalating a situation is one of her natural abilities. Every night behind the bar with Cheyenne was always a good time. She’s a force of nature, and an excellent partner in crime. – John Wilcox, Head Distiller for Blackwater Distillery
I’m talking with Tylr on the rooftop garden of The Ramble Hotel – in the River North Art District of Denver. This is where New York City’s revered and respected Death & Co. established a second location. At the hotel, Tylr tells me her favorite drinks and bars.
To drink, my favorite has always been a Necromancer…it’s absinthe, lemon juice, St. Germain, and Cocchi Americano. You can use Lillet, if you want to – I like Cocchi, though. It’s the first drink that Cory [Leicester] made me.
I like straight spirits. I really love Bulliet Rye – with a few dashes of peach bitters, on the rocks.
I’ve been obsessed with Tiki drinks lately…after I read the book, Smuggler’s Cove. Generally, they’re a little too sweet for me, but the different layers are fun. In [Denver], there are two Tiki bars that I know of, Adrift and Hidden Idol.
There is this bar in London, Evans & Peel Detective Agency. That was an amazing experience. Another place I liked overseas was the Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, originally the brew house for Nottingham Castle…built in 1067.
In New York City, I went to Apothéke – there are no seats at the bar. I like that idea, because it encourages conversation.
Attaboy in Nashville – no menu – it’s bartender’s choice all the time. I don’t remember what I had, exactly, but it had egg whites in it…served in a Collins glass.
In Denver, I always end up at Occidental. Also, I rave about Izakaya Ronin – their sushi: amazing. Star Bar too, it’s an industry bar. You can get any nice cocktail…but you’re comfortable to order a Coors Light and a shot of Kentucky Gentleman too.
Lying is not one of Cheyenne’s skills. On a trip to the Outer Banks, we were told we could join a group of kayaks heading out for a view of the sunset on the ocean. The only catch: we had to create different personas. The guide asked that we show up pretending we were different people entirely. Cheyenne wasn’t capable of even changing her name for the lie. – Ryan Wallace, William Oliver’s Publick House
Tylr describes her mother as her best friend. Her parents divorced when she was eighteen. Her mom had been with her husband for over 20 years. When the marriage ended, she and her daughter were able to discover a new way of relating, on equal ground with transparency – a friendship.
Oceanside is where Tylr has returned. Together with Carlsbad and Vista, it forms a tri-city area in San Diego County, and has a current population of approximately 175,000. Its famous pier is in its sixth incarnation with a length of almost 2,000 feet – with the previous five piers each destroyed by tumultuous storms.
With plans to finish her college degree in marketing, I recently caught up with Tylr for an update.
Since moving back, what have you rediscovered that you love about CA?
The obvious answer: the ocean. I missed the ocean so much. Also, being able to see my family every day is amazing. I get to have mom as a best friend again, and I’m reconnecting with friends from grade school and high school.
With some distance now, what is your perspective on Colorado?
It taught me independence, and to be an advocate for myself. Colorado brought out an adventurous side of me I had no idea I had.
What’s fun or interesting that you’ve experienced in Oceanside with regards to the industry?
I kinda took a step back from bars, going to school full time. After taking a break from drinking, I have rediscovered my love of beer! There are so many new breweries in Oceanside since last time I lived here. I became inspired to study again for my second level Cicerone. Also, I’m behind the bar again…at Land & Water Co.
In what ways have you grown since moving?
I’ve been taking a more serious approach with my health. I always loved working out, but I wanted to look for other interests besides cocktails and spirits. I’ve been taking aerial silks lessons, been rock climbing, and playing volleyball again. I have been putting family and health first.
As with many other cities in the States, a culinary renaissance has risen in the tri-city region within the last decade – providing a diversity of food & beverage options for both residents and visitors. Land & Water Co. is an innovative restaurant created within a historical house that pays conscious attention to seasonal ingredients, sustainable methods, and responsible usage – with a special appreciation for the offerings of our natural environment. Located in Carlsbad, Land & Water Co. is also home to The Charles Kenneth, a speakeasy with an entrance located on the southeast side. There are house rules for this escape, and dressing sharp is strongly encouraged. Drinks are made with intention, patience, and creativity, and not in careless haste. Cheyenne Tylr is in good company – and, no doubt, a priceless addition to the establishment and tri-city community.
By Kristian DePue
Header Photo Credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios
Oceanside photos (other six): Rory Team
Rocky Mountain Food Report on Retrograde and Cory Leicester: Shaken, not stirred